The SFL Genre-based Approach To Writing In EFL Contexts

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Nagao Asian-Pacific Journal of Second and Foreign Language Education(2019) Pacific Journal of Secondand Foreign Language EducationORIGINAL ARTICLEOpen AccessThe SFL genre-based approach to writingin EFL contextsAkiko NagaoCorrespondence: [email protected] University, 67Tsukamoto-cho, FukakusaFushimi-ku, Kyoto 612-8577, JapanAbstractThis research investigates the changes in English as a Foreign Language (EFL)learners’ psychological attributes in relation to awareness of the lexicogrammaticalfeatures and generic structures of a discussion genre essay. This was achieved byimplementing a genre-based approach to text-based writing lessons during a 15week course. The following lesson procedure was implemented: stage (1): modelingand deconstruction of a text, stage (2): writing of target texts, stage (3): genreanalysis of peers’ essays, and stage (4): writing of an analysis reflection. The resultsindicated specific improvements in genre-based writing, particularly among lowproficiency English learners. Results suggest that their understanding of“interpersonal meaning” such as modal verbs improved. Improvements in the use ofmodal auxiliaries were also noted, in that the word “should” did not appear in prewriting texts; however, the frequency improved in post-writing texts, especially in thefinal paragraph, which comprised the writers’ opinions and suggestions.Keywords: English as a foreign/ second language (EFL/ ESL), English for speakers ofother languages (ESOL), Linguistics, Teacher and learner variablesIntroductionSystematic functional linguistics (SFL) is a theoretical approach that analyzes the relationship between social contexts and linguistic aspects (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2014).The core concepts of SFL are language as functional and language as meaning-making(Halliday, 1978). The first concept refers to language attributes: understanding a language means understanding how people use the language in context and how it isstructured for use (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2014). According to the second concept,language as meaning-making, speakers and writers have a systematic choice in a particular context (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2014). When writing an email message to afriend, person A chooses particular lexicogrammatical functions, which are differentfrom those used when the same person writes an email message to inquire about a job.Thus, the context of a situation is related to the meaning-making choice.The common focused features of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) learning inhigh school classrooms in Japan among 2134 high school teachers in 2015 were reading texts aloud, practicing pronunciation, and explaining the uses of lexicogrammar(Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute, 2016). Having learnerswrite sentences or essays about their opinions and summarizing textbook contentswere less focused during EFL lessons at Japanese high schools (Benesse Educational The Author(s). 2019 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 InternationalLicense (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium,provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, andindicate if changes were made.

Nagao Asian-Pacific Journal of Second and Foreign Language Education(2019) 4:6Page 2 of 18Research and Development Institute, 2016). One study revealed how 140 EFL learnersat a private university in Japan considered the importance of learning English: 28% ofthem considered improving listening skills to be important, while 11% of them agreedthat learning how to write texts in English was important (Yamashita, 2012). Sugiura(2017) explores the changes of 37 Japanese university students’ understanding of theirEnglish learning styles from when they were high school students to when they becameuniversity students through an analysis of narrative frameworks. Many of them learnedlexicogrammar of English using textbooks provided in a teacher-dominated setting inhigh school, while they tended to be taught mostly through practicing verbal communication while at university (Sugiura, 2017). Their narratives, however, said far less aboutthe ways that they learned how to write in English. Murakoshi (2015) reported thatwriting practices and activities in classrooms tended to consist of opportunities for EFLlearners to practice writing sentences and paragraphs in order to establish linguisticknowledge. The aim of this paper is (1) to introduce an SFL-genre-based approach toteaching methodology that reckons with the changes in EFL learners’ awareness of target genre in particular learning contexts, and (2) to explore the idea that learning howto write consists of more than creating a cognitive network in terms of linguistic knowledge as it is processed by learners’ brains. Language as functional and language asmeaning-making purposes is applicable or not within the EFL classroom contexts.Literature reviewSystematic functional linguistics and genreIn SFL theory, the relational concept of linking the context of a situation with linguisticchoices is called register. Register has three features; Field, Tenor, and Mode, which arerelated to the following metafunctions (see Table 1; Halliday & Matthiessen, 2014;Martin & Rose, 2008). The Field facilitates understanding of how and when people useparticular lexicogrammatical features such as mental verbs and elements of cohesion;these are ideational metafunctions that allow us to understand what is occurring in thetext. The Tenor facilitates understanding of how and when the writer chooses particular modalities and appraisal systems; this interpersonal metafunction helps us to understand the relationship between writers and readers. Finally, the Mode facilitates analysisand understanding of the Theme and Rheme as well as cohesive devices; this textualmetafunction allows us to understand how the text is organized.Table 1 Context of the Situation and Linguistic ter variablesWhat is going on inthe text?What is the relationship betweenwriters and readers?How is the text organized,in spoken text or writtentext?Linguisticrealization inmetafunctionIdeational meaning:when, how, who,where, and whatInterpersonal learning: politeness,modality, and evaluative terms;attitudes, positions, and social rolesTextual meaning: Themeand Rheme as well as newand old ammar, and tenseMood, modalitiesTheme; this, it, and thatNote. Information in the table is based on Halliday and Matthiessen (2014)

Nagao Asian-Pacific Journal of Second and Foreign Language Education(2019) 4:6Genre in SFL represents the systems of social processes that constitute a culture(Martin & White, 2005). Rose (2013, p. 209) claimed that the approach of genre hasbeen influenced by features: “Halliday’s (1975) theory of language regarding the socialsemiotic process, Bernstein’s (1990) sociological theory, and a series of large-scale action research projects in literacy education (Martin, 1999; Rose, 2008).” Bhatia (2004)summarized some common features of genre studies: Genre refers to language in astylized communicative setting in order to allow speakers and writers to express a definitive set of communicative goals of a disciplinary or social institution. Genre gives usstable structural forms, including the use of lexicogrammatical and semiotic resources(Bhatia, 2004).Genre was defined differently in English for specific purposes (ESP) by Swales (1990,p. 58), who defined the key concepts in ESP as “discourse community, communicativepurpose, and genre.” Here, genre is a category of communicative events holding somecommunicative purpose. In other words, genres in ESP are understood as communicative tools in the social context of the discourse community, and understanding thefunctions of generic structure and lexicogrammar help us to understand the communicative goals (Fakhruddin & Hassan, 2015). In sum, genres in ESP are forms of communicative action.Martin (1984, p. 25) stated that genre in SFL is “goal-oriented and has a social activitypurpose:” writers and speakers who use the genre engage in these activities as “members of their culture.” Eggins (2004) proposed that each genre text has a different cultural purpose based on its generic structure and realizational pattern. Realization of therelationship between (1) social purposes and (2) contexts as specific linguistic interactions is the key concept in SFL (Fakhruddin & Hassan, 2015). Understanding socialpurposes and contexts allows us to discern the meaning of the language and specificsocial actions (Fakhruddin & Hassan, 2015).In this study, genre is defined as types of written text that help us to understand therelationship between the text’s social purpose and structure, which influence writers’linguistic actions.Previous research on the SFL genre (text)-based approach of writing in EFL contextsMost current research on the genre-based approach (GBA) and SFL have implied improvement in learners’ generic structural awareness rather than in their lexicogrammatical meaning-making choices. Chen and Su (2012) and Feez (2002) emphasized thatthe use of GBA with the teaching-learning cycle (TLC) has five stages: (1) setting of thecontext, (2) modeling, (3) joint construction, (4) independent construction, and (5)comparison. The GBA and TLC were effective in terms of learners’ summarization ability, especially their organization of the narrative genre text’s structure rather than vocabulary and language use (Chen & Su, 2012; Feez, 1998; Feez, 2002). Carstens (2009)investigated the effectiveness of using GBA with SFL grammar as the theoretical framework for teaching academic writing to second-year undergraduate students of Humanities at the University of Pretoria. Although it is challenging for many tertiary-levellearners to acquire specific knowledge and skills to write particular academic genretexts, genre-based writing has the capability to enhance their writing abilities. However,very little empirical research has been conducted in this area. Carstens’ (2009) studyPage 3 of 18

Nagao Asian-Pacific Journal of Second and Foreign Language Education(2019) 4:6applied a mixed methods design using genre analysis, discourse analysis, survey of writing tasks, and pre- and posttest essay ratings. The results indicated that the followinggenre types were required to write academic essays: argumentation, discussion, explanation, and description genre texts (Carstens, 2009). Despite limited research, studies onEFL writing based on SFL-GBA teaching and learning have found that learners improved their understanding of the logico-semantic relationship. In Srinon’s (2011)study, learners’ use of resources to construct a logico-semantic relationship increased;that is, the frequency of using single-clause sentences reduced, and sentences includinghypotaxis and parataxis increased.SFL-GBA teaching usually involves the TLC, which is a systematic approach guidingEFL learners on how to interrelate lexicogrammatical features as well as functions andwriters’ shared experiences in the context when they write. The original TLC has threestages: deconstruction of the target genre’s written texts, joint construction, and independent construction (Feez, 1998; Feez, 2002). Many studies on SFL-GBA writing havereported the benefits of applying this TLC to explore the degree to which genre-basedteaching allows learners to gain genre awareness and improve writing quality when theywrite argumentative essays (Tsou & Lin, 2013). However, in their study, Tsou and Lin(2013) found that the control group learners’ understanding of genre awareness did notimprove significantly. The concept of TLC allows EFL teachers and instructors toutilize the scaffolding strategy. Syarifah and Gunawan (2015) observed improvement insix EFL learners’ writing performance of a discussion genre text; in particular, the socialfunction, schematic structure, and language features improved because of the SFL-GBAwriting lesson. Thus, their results showed that scaffolding was embedded in the TLC.Viriya and Wasanasomsithi (2017) used the genre approach to writing lessons whileusing the TLC (Feez, 2002) for a 12-week period. The target for these learners was toproduce a genre text that was informative and persuasive. However, there was little improvement in the learners’ awareness of the reader-writer relationship and what theyshould write about. Viriya and Wasanasomsithi (2017) concluded that these learners’discourse community was within the classroom, and therefore they knew that theiraudience, that is, the reader of the text, would only be the instructor. Therefore, awareness of the reader-writer relationship did not improve significantly in the post-task. InSFL theory, the concept of Tenor indicates the degree of formality, power, and effectthat usually influence interpersonal choices in terms of linguistics systems (Halliday,1978, p. 143). However, this idea might have been omitted in the learning classroomcontext in Viriya and Wasanasomsithi’s (2017) study.Finally, although the majority of research on GBA teaching and learning has foundthat the SFL-GBA pedagogy is useful for EFL learners, most studies have demonstratedlittle understanding regarding which features of the approach are useful. Many studieshave focused on learners’ generic awareness improvement but not on the changes inteachers’ understanding of how to teach writing using SFL and GBA. Shi (2015) applieda qualitative case study method by analyzing interviews, classroom observations, andstudents’ writing data. These students’ target genre was a discussion text. The authorsfound that through the workshop training, teachers’ (1) curricular knowledge, (2) subject matter content knowledge, and (3) pedagogical content knowledge about the targetgenre was improved. These teachers realized that their former approach of teachinghow to write the target genre text was too general, with insufficient details about thePage 4 of 18

Nagao Asian-Pacific Journal of Second and Foreign Language Education(2019) 4:6generic structure. They found that genre pedagogy can provide learners withstep-by-step instructions on how to write the target text. The teachers’ content knowledge of the target genre text allowed them to gain subject matter content knowledgeand curriculum knowledge. These teachers believed that the modeling stage of the TLCin particular, allowed students to gain awareness of the textual features within targetgenre texts.SFL-GBA writing research on EFL contexts in JapanContemporary genre research into the Japanese language has been conducted since the1970s, focusing in particular on Japanese discourses. Therefore, the study of genre inJapanese language using the concept of SFL as a framework is now a well-establishedfield of research (Thomson, de Silva Joyce, & Sano, 2017). However, EFL research onwriting using the concept of SFL in the classroom context in Japan has not yet beenfully established. The concept of SFL has recently been appreciated in EFL-based countries, and its theory and practicums have been integrated into English classes. Tatsuki(2006) analyzed the relationship between generic structures and lexicogrammatical features, and introduced the concept of SFL theory and practical application using genretexts with real situations.Cornelius and Cotsworth (2015) clearly explained possibilities for applying SFL-GBAteaching in classroom learning contexts. Novice writers may find the conventionalitiesof EFL academic writing problematic, especially for lower English proficiency learnersin the EFL classroom contexts of Japanese universities (Cornelius & Cotsworth, 2015).Cornelius and Cotsworth found that the Australian School of Genre approach (i.e., theTLC) can be an alternative solution that allows EFL learners to understand how thetext is composed using a holistic approach and also allows EFL teachers to teach byexplaining the target genre texts’ purpose, generic structures, and linguistic markers.Moreover, through this GBA of learning, learners have the responsibility for the outputand their interaction (Cornelius & Cotsworth, 2015). During EFL learning in Japan,many learners might think that the grammar function, vocabulary, and meaning of agenre are separate aspects; however, the core concept of SFL and GBA is that “grammar and vocabulary are related to the meaning of the genre and not viewed as separateaspects” (Cornelius & Cotsworth, 2015, p. 19). It is important for EFL learners to become familiar with the text’s purpose, structure, and language features by engaging intasks with sample texts that allow them to recognize the particular genre (Cornelius &Cotsworth, 2015). The GBA method of learning writing benefits novice EFL learners inJapan by ensuring the above (Cornelius & Cotsworth, 2015). In addition, EFL learnersneed to be aware of the different social contexts when they engage in writing; however,it can be challenging for EFL learners to understand these differences (Badger & White,2000), as they affect the choice of appropriate lexicogrammar and generic structure thatare suited to the social context. For example, writing factual description texts and writing option essays use different lexicogrammatical features such as modalities. Learningto write using the GBA can solve the above issue.Watanabe (2016) analyzed 50 writing tasks given in university entrance examinationsin Japan. Learning of English in junior and senior high schools in Japan is highlyentrance-examination driven; in other words, learners at high schools are familiar withPage 5 of 18

Nagao Asian-Pacific Journal of Second and Foreign Language Education(2019) 4:6how to write these particular genre texts through classroom lessons, although they donot have sufficient exposure to other genres. Thirty EFL learners in Japan, who were intwo different proficiency groups, participated in the GBA with the SFL framework;these learners’ understanding of tone, register, and audience awareness were improvedin the post-writing task (Yasuda, 2012).Yasuda (2015) used SFL as the research framework to investigate the changes in EFLlearners’ generic and language features. This author identified changes in learners’ understanding of interpersonal and textual meanings through SFL-informed genre analysis tasks. Yasuda (2015) concluded that genre-specific language learning with an SFLframework can enhance writers’ awareness of ideational, interpersonal, and textualmeanings in summary writing. One limitation of Yasuda’s (2015) study, however, wasthe focus on learners with different English proficiency levels. Therefore, this study attempts to examine two groups: learners with higher and lower English proficiency.Contribution of this studyThe efficacy of the approach of genre-based pedagogy (GBP) in teaching EFL academicwriting and in learners’ learning of specific genres has not been well discussed in theoretical and anecdotal research. Few empirical studies have been conducted to assesswhether the GBP approach benefits learners in their learning of a target genre. The useof the GBA with the SFL framework is a relatively new method of teaching English language writing to undergraduate university students in Japan. Therefore, this study wasconducted to answer the following research questions:RQ 1 How does the learners’ awareness of the target genre text change in terms oftheir use of generic structures and appropriate lexicogrammatical choice in theGeneral English for Academic Purposes writing class?RQ 2 How do learners understand words that have interpersonal meanings, and howdo they use modal auxiliaries in writing a discussion genre essay?MethodsParticipantsThe study participant

analysis of peers’ essays, and stage (4): writing of an analysis reflection. The results indicated specific improvements in genre-based writing, particularly among low-proficiency English learners. Results suggest that their understanding of “interpersonal meaning” such as modal verbs improved. Improvements in the use of